Toad in the hole
If we are looking a little lorn this week, with our mouth opening and closing to little effect, it is principally because we are staring at “Finding love in a hopeless place: A global database of misdirected amplexus in anurans”. This is a new paper in the journal Ecology by Filipe Serrano and his colleagues at the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil. No amount of science words can gloss over the fact that it amounts to a spreadsheet of all the instances recorded in the scientific literature in the past century of frogs attempting to mate with things that they shouldn’t.
It can’t be easy being an amphibian, as evidenced by the touching – in a very real, excessive sense – story recently reported in this magazine of male Santa Marta harlequin toads in Colombia that cling to females’ backs for up to five months in hope of mating (23 April, p 19).
The new database conveniently tags misdirected encounters with hour, month, year and geographical location. “We recorded a total of 282 interspecific amplexus, 46 necrophiliac amplexus and 50 amplexus with objects or non-amphibian species, with USA and Brazil being the countries with the highest number of records,” the authors report.
“Why?” asks a colleague. Ah, well, if we knew why we were doing science in the first place, that wouldn’t be science, would it?
Many of us have a special place we go when we want to think. In Feedback’s case, we are often accompanied by Think, a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy that promises “philosophy for everyone”.
We think it may be getting a little too Everyman with a contribution in the latest issue entitled “The metaphysics of farts”. If the last item brought the sound of the barrel scraping, listen to us now drill right through.
What is a fart? An act, that of breaking wind, or a thing, the resultant smell? Author Brian Capra tackles this question head on, highlighting contradictions between the “essential-bum-origin” and “phenomenological” views that, he submits, mean both can’t be true.
Via a thought experiment asking if two people fart in a lift, how many farts there are, and the obvious answer – does it matter? – he concludes that a fart-thing must proceed from a fart-act, but a fart-act doesn’t necessarily produce a fart-thing, and, so, “we are led to an outlook similar to Descartes’s view of the mind: on the phenomenological view, the essence of a fart is given to us in our olfactory experience”.
Desfartes, as a nameless colleague supplies indelicately. Ignore them, dear readers: this sort of thing is what makes philosophy and thinking such valuable activities. Now, could someone open that door? It is closer than two toads in the mating season in here.
Got my goat
We note in passing – noiselessly, of course – that the same author wrote an article in Philosophy Now that uses elementary principles of model logic to prove that everything is a goat. For those still asking “why?”, we merely note the goat’s genus is Capra, and there may be more than a hint of solipsism in the argument.
On a roll
We would personally prefer it if everything were cake. Our thanks to the very, very many of you who provided ever so slightly muffled feedback on our recent item on legal definitions of cake (30 April). Space fortunately does permit us to delve into the details, suffice to say that the rigour with which you treat the subject convinces us that Feedback is all one happy family with shared values and priorities.
We particularly savoured Liz Tucker’s tangential mention of a talk she went to on the history of the Lyons tea-and-cake empire that was a feature of the British landscape for many years, which stated that, at one time, the company produced 35 miles of Swiss roll a week. This conjures a mental image of a truly majestic, if slow-moving, machine. It prompts us to ask “How do you make a Swiss roll?”, to which we are sure you can supply the punchline.
Like a lead…
Carl Zetie is perplexed by the appearance in his Facebook feed of an advertisement from a software company called Zeplin, whose corporate logo is an airship of almost that name. “Companies ship 20% faster using Zeplin,” it promises. Historically speaking, this seems an odd choice of corporate metaphor, and we do hope there is no crashing and burning on arrival.
Those were unsettling times, as are these. So it is good to know that the defence of the realm is in no-nonsense hands, as per a tweet from the University Royal Naval Unit Edinburgh, sent to us by Ceri Brown. “Our first training evening after Easter was a very detailed and informative brief from the Defence Nuclear Organisation on the UK Nuclear Deterrent. Thank you to Captain Tough and his team for the briefing.” With that exemplar of The Name Thing That Shan’t be Mentioned, and to employ a military phrase whose correct usage has generated lively debate from you before (3 April, 24 April and 8 May 2021), it is, from this Feedback, over and out.
Got a story for Feedback?
You can send stories to Feedback by email at [email protected] Please include your home address. This week’s and past Feedbacks can be seen on our website.